By John Ours, CEO, Paragon Consulting
For the vast majority of organizations today, commerce without content becomes unfeasible quickly. Yet organizations rarely grow into commerce and content at the same time. No matter how they start, however, they usually arrive at the same place: one system to handle commerce, another to serve content, and a smattering of other add-ons or systems for automation, email, assets, cataloging, etc.
This situation may work for a time — it might even be rationalized as “best of breed” — but it inevitably compromises digital maturation and, more importantly, undermines profit.
The good news is there are solid options for consolidating commerce and content on a single platform. If you’re currently living with disparate systems and staring at a steep growth curve, it might be time to seriously consider one of these options.
Below we’ll take a look at some of the benefits of pursuing this strategy, and how it can ultimately make digital commerce more profitable for your company. Of course, increasing profit comes from either increasing revenue or decreasing costs (or both), so I’ve organized the benefits based on which side of the equation they fall into.
Simplified technical implementation:
This one should be a given. Deploying one platform is less expensive than deploying two. Maintaining one platform is a lot less expensive than maintaining two. And the integration is already complete.
Consistent catalog data:
This is one of the most commonly overlooked points of lost productivity and technical spend in a commerce project, so much so that it almost deserves its own blog post.
We constantly see companies chase inconsistencies between brand, product, and pricing information on their commerce and content platforms. At best, data is synchronized automatically between systems and technical resources periodically have to chase down bugs or failures. At worst, it’s reconciled manually by marketers.
If you have separate content and commerce platforms, you are almost certainly spending more than you need to here.
Not unlike the first two points, anything we have to do twice costs more. A consolidated platform lets you use the same code, content, and assets to implement both the content and commerce sides of the experience. Need to make a change? Change it once.
Training and management efficiency:
One product means one training curriculum, one run book, and one set of user documentation. As an added bonus, you’ll probably end up with more cross-trained users as well.
The lower the number of integration points, the easier it is to adopt cloud hosting, and less platforms means less servers. Hosting environments can often be dramatically simplified and thus easier to manage.
Perhaps most important, consistent technology and architecture allow you to take advantage of modern hosting features like auto-scaling and automated management, reducing your total cost of ownership.
In addition to the convenience of a single platform vendor, you probably only need a single services vendor, which brings consistency to the management of the site and more efficient knowledge transfer between development teams. Expect major economies of scale in your support and Managed Services programs as well.
Reduction of “content neglect”:
Again, we’ll start with an obvious one: businesses that derive most of their digital revenue from direct commerce conversion tend to put most of their resources into their commerce experience.
Despite plenty of evidence that good content helps build trust, drive traffic, and keep visitors on the site, strong commerce organizations chronically under-invest in content. So anything we can do to remove technical or human barriers from the process of updating content is a worthy pursuit, and combining the commerce and content platform does both.
Commerce moves fast. Competition, incentives, sponsorships, pricing, product, and inventory change all the time. The more integrated your messaging becomes between your content and commerce (which it should be), the more you need to synchronize updates to products and content.
Do you have time to wait for a development team to update brand info on your commerce site? (Most of our customers don’t.) Are your writers ready to respond with content when product changes replicate into your commerce site from your ERP? (Again, most of our customers respond in the negative.)
A modern commerce experience requires changes to be consistent and quick, on the order of hours rather than days, which is much easier on a single platform.
Many modern content platforms support personalizing content for different audiences, but a large part of your experience (and your most valuable conversions) are on the commerce side.
A coherent personalization strategy needs to include messaging on the commerce portions of your site. If you’re dealing with one platform, then it’s one ruleset, one set of segment definitions, and one set of alternate assets that you can quickly adapt for the experience you want to create.
When your visitor’s journey crosses between platforms, it can be challenging to see the full picture of how they arrived — or didn’t arrive — at a conversion.
How much research did this customer do prior to purchasing? What first drove her to your content? When was that? What was her last action before abandoning her cart? And so forth. External tools can help, but it’s often very hard, if not impossible, to get the whole story with them.
A combined content and commerce platform can track a visitor’s entire experience and use all that data to support its other built-in features like testing, automation, and machine learning.
Finding the right solution
At Paragon, we often recommend Sitecore for customers in the situation I described at the beginning of this post, especially for those on a Microsoft platform. It’s a strong commerce engine with well-proven content tools, and it’s built on a single platform, which includes a consistent author and developer experience. As such, Sitecore’s a great example of the type of tool you should explore when you’re looking to integrate content and commerce.
But whatever solution you choose, keeping your site simple, consistent, and integrated is your surest path to digital commerce profit.
One final note: consolidating your content and commerce doesn’t have to be a burn-and-rebuild-everything project.
Depending on your starting point, there are often ways to work toward consolidation while reaping some of the rewards I outlined above as you go. Doing so requires a clear long-term vision and good governance along the way, but I have seen it done successfully.
I’ll save details of that for a future article, but if you have questions in the meantime feel free to ask.
And if you’re interested in exploring more of the challenges many commerce businesses are facing as well as a model for growth and practical steps for a path forward, check out Sitecore and Econsultancy’s latest report: “Reinventing Commerce: How retailors, CPGs, and manufacturers can compete by driving memorable customer experiences.”
John Ours is the CEO of Paragon and a Sitecore Architect. Find him on LinkedIn.